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Lesbian restaurant owner appeals for help in dispute

Hank’s Oyster Bar forced to close part of patio during Pride

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Jamie Leeds (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The lesbian owner of a popular seafood restaurant along the 17th Street business district near Dupont Circle is asking the community to support the repeal of a city law that she says allowed six people to force her to reduce her outdoor seating capacity from 40 to 20 customers.

Jamie Leeds, the chef and owner of Hank’s Oyster Bar at 1624 Q Street, N.W., issued a statement over the weekend informing customers and supporters that inspectors with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board ordered her on Friday night, June 8, to close half of the restaurant’s patio space.

Leeds said that the order came the day before the annual Capital Pride Parade was to travel past her patio, limiting the number of patrons who wanted to dine on the patio while watching the parade.

“This action shutting down half of our outdoor patio on the night before the annual parade was the result of one of the license protestants phoning in a complaint to the city, and occurs before we have even had a hearing before the ABC Board,” Leeds said in an open letter to the community.

“The ongoing harassment by this small band of residents is astonishing and the timing of this individual’s complaint before the annual celebration is despicable,” she wrote in her letter.

Leeds’ call for the repeal of the law that allows as few as five citizens to contest liquor license applications comes at a time when gay and straight nightlife advocates have urged gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) to consider introducing legislation to ease what the advocates say are overly burdensome regulations pertaining to such businesses. Graham chairs the Council committee that oversees the city’s liquor laws and the agency that enforces them.

Michael Hibey, the attorney representing the six residents opposing Hank’s Oyster Bar’s use of the expanded outdoor seating, declined to comment. David J. Mallof, one of the six nearby residents who has taken a lead role in opposing Hank’s expansion of its outdoor seating, also declined to comment.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach the other five residents opposing the termination of the voluntary agreement. They are: Alexis Rieffel, Ralph N. Johnson, Susan Meehan, Michael Fasano and Patricia E. Steele.

Fred Moosally, director of the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, which oversees the ABC Board, confirmed on Monday that the inspectors responded to a complaint by a representative of the six residents opposed to the restaurant’s expansion.

But Moosally told the Blade that the call for restricting the patio’s use was in response to a May 17 D.C. Court of Appeals decision ordering the city to reinstate a document known as a voluntary agreement between Leeds and the six residents. The agreement bars Hank’s from expanding its patio or any part of the restaurant beyond the space it occupied at the time it opened in 2005.

At Leeds’ request and following an earlier hearing, the board terminated the voluntary agreement in 2010, allowing her to expand into outdoor and indoor space in an adjacent building that became vacant that year.

The six residents appealed the board’s action to the Court of Appeals. The court voided the board’s order terminating the voluntary agreement and remanded the case back to the board. It instructed the board to consider two issues the court said the board was legally required to consider but failed to do so at the time it terminated the voluntary agreement.

Moosally said ABC Board inspectors informed Leeds on June 2 during a visit to the restaurant of the court ruling and its effect of reinstating her voluntary agreement. Although he didn’t say so directly, he implied that Hank’s knew more than a week before the Pride parade that it couldn’t use the full space of the patio at the time of the June 9 parade.

Andrew Kline, a licensing counsel representing Leeds before the ABC Board, disputes Moosally’s assessment, saying he believes the board had to take “another step” of rescinding its 2010 order terminating the voluntary agreement before it could require Hank’s to give up use of the full patio.

Kline said the court decision didn’t prevent the board from allowing Hank’s to continue to use its full patio while the board deliberates over its decision, as mandated by the court, to make a determination on whether the voluntary agreement should once again be terminated.

The board scheduled a hearing on Wednesday, June 13, to address issues that the appeals court said must be resolved before the board can make a final decision on whether to retain or terminate the voluntary agreement.

The court decision was the latest development in a seven-year dispute between Hank’s Oyster Bar and the handful of nearby residents, who have contested the restaurant’s liquor license in an effort to obtain restrictions through the voluntary agreement.

Leeds says in her letter that she was pressured into signing the voluntary agreement in 2005, the year she opened the restaurant, as a condition to end a formal protest of the license by the six residents. She said the license protest could have dragged on for months, delaying her ability to obtain a liquor license and jeopardizing her ability to open her new business.

Most observers following the dispute, including LGBT activists, believe Hank’s opponents are motivated by an aversion to an “overconcentration” of liquor serving establishments on 17th Street, which the opponents say have the potential for causing neighborhood disturbances. Most observers don’t think the opponents of Hank’s expansion are motivated by anti-gay sentiment.

Hank's Oyster Bar (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

But many LGBT activists have teamed up with nightlife advocates in calling on the City Council to repeal the law that gives as few as five residents legal standing to challenge a liquor license and push for restrictions similar to those in the voluntary agreement signed by Hank’s.

They point out that Hank’s has never caused any problems in the neighborhood, either before or after it expanded its operations into the adjacent space in 2011.

Although the ABC Board makes the final decision on approving a voluntary agreement or approving restrictions on the operation of bars and restaurants, business owners have said a protest by a “gang of five,” as the business owners have called the protesting residents, can hold up a license for months. They say the delays result in high monetary costs for legal fees and the cost of renting spaces that can’t generate revenue until the license is approved.

One proposal offered by nightlife advocates is to eliminate the existing provision of the liquor law that gives five or more citizens authority to contest liquor licenses and restrict that authority to the elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. ANC’s currently have that authority.

“If you agree that allowing a small number of individuals to dictate what happens in our community is wrong, please contact ABRA; Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans; Council member Jim Graham, chair of the committee that oversees ABC [Board issues]; and Mayor Vincent Gray,” Leeds said in her open letter. “The right of a group of 5 residents to hold up a license application should be eliminated from the law.”

Leeds’ letter came two days after Mayor Gray told a joint Capital Pride-Washington Blade town hall meeting that he was concerned over the ability of just five people to block licensing applications for businesses such as restaurants.

“I don’t think a small handful of people should be given the opportunity to unreasonably hold up action on something that a preponderance of the people want to move forward on,” Gray said.

“I have always believed that most so-called ‘voluntary agreements’ are actually ‘coerced’ agreements,’” said gay activist Peter Rosenstein, who lives about two blocks from Hank’s.

“[T]his case should convince the City Council and the mayor to change the law,” Rosenstein said. “We live in a democracy and allowing a complaint by five people to determine what is seating capacity for a restaurant is clearly not democracy.”

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and a resident of 17th Street near Hank’s Oyster Bar, characterized as “outrageous” the action by the six residents to restrict Hank’s patio usage.

“It is absurd and harmful, and D.C. Council members and Mayor Gray need to hear from people who appreciate that the neighborhood and the city are not served by allowing small, unrepresentative groups to hold everyone else hostage to their cramped, entitlement-drenched desire to turn thriving urban neighborhoods into quiet suburbs,” Rosendall said.

One of the court’s requirements is that Leeds makes a “good faith” effort to reach a new voluntary agreement with the six residents, something Leeds doesn’t think is possible.

“[W]e did try to work this out with those opposed to us back when we first sought termination of the VA, but they refused to meet,” she said. “Since the Court of Appeals decision was reached, we offered to address their concerns with a more limited VA, but they insist we cut our outdoor occupancy by 25 percent, even though there have been no complaints.”

The second requirement is to show that the neighborhood has changed since the time the agreement was signed in 2005 that would support terminating the agreement. Kline said one key change that has occurred is the ABC Board repealed part of a longstanding 17th Street moratorium on new liquor licenses that prevented bars and restaurants from laterally expanding to adjacent buildings or properties.

The Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which supports allowing Hank’s to expand its patio, supported the lifting of the moratorium on lateral expansion.

The president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, Doug Rogers, issued a statement on Monday denouncing the ABC Board’s decision to shut down Hank’s expanded patio operation, saying the board should have waited until after its scheduled hearing on June 13.

“What is even more infuriating is that two toxic people in our neighborhood are allowed to shut down part of a legitimate business and force them to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Rogers said in his statement. “Their ability to do this should be eliminated from D.C. law, and I urge Mayor Gray and the D.C. Council to reform D.C.’s archaic regulatory laws.”

 

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Virginia

Student activists picket Loudoun Co. School Board

Members of the Pride Liberation Project call for ‘trans rights now’

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Members of the Pride Liberation Project hold signs supporting trans rights during a Loudoun County School Board meeting on Tuesday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A group of student activists from the Pride Liberation Project picketed in front of the Loudoun County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9 in Ashburn, Va. Members of the group chanted, “trans rights now” in front of the administrative building at the start of the session.

Loudoun County Public Schools student activist Daniel Tanedjaja told the Blade, “I am here in solidarity and support for our trans and gender non-conforming students here. In actuality, a lot of our trans and gender non-conforming kids at Loudoun County Schools don’t know that there is a gender neutral bathroom option and I would like the school to make it more accessible to them.”

Activists were seated during the community input portion of the school board meeting. Some of the protesters held up signs supporting trans rights during anti-LGBTQ public comments at the podium by conservative community activists.

The Pride Liberation Project is a Northern Virginia-based student-led organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights.

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District of Columbia

Gay couple assaulted on D.C. street by attackers shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’

Police list Aug. 7 incident in Shaw as suspected hate crime

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Two persons of interest considered possible suspects in the Sunday, Aug. 7 assault of a gay couple on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W. Police ask anyone who recognizes one or both individuals to contact police at 202-727-9099. (Image courtesy of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department)

Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.

The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.

The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.

The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.

The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.

As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.

“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.

“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”

To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.

“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”

The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.

The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.

As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.

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District of Columbia

Lesbian activist assaulted with barstool at D.C. lounge

Police say victim’s claim of anti-gay hate crime under investigation

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Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was attacked in a local bar. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. police say they are actively investigating an Aug. 3 incident in which lesbian activist and Ward 8 community leader Aiyi’nah Ford says she was hit three times in the head with the metal legs of a barstool swung by a man yelling anti-gay names at her.

A police report says the incident took place at the Player’s Lounge, a restaurant and bar at 2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave., S.E., in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood shortly before and after midnight on Aug. 3 and 4.   

Ford, who witnesses say was covered in blood when she stepped outside the restaurant after other patrons intervened, was taken by ambulance to George Washington University Hospital for treatment of a head and scalp injury that required multiple stitches. 

Ford and an employee at Player’s Lounge said the man who allegedly committed the assault is a regular customer at the restaurant but is known to people only by his nickname of Black. A police spokesperson said that as of Monday no arrest had been made in the case but that it remains under “active investigation” by a detective with the department’s Seventh District in Southeast.

A police report obtained by the Blade lists the incident as an assault with a dangerous weapon, but it does not classify the incident as a hate crime.

“There is no indication at this time that this incident was motivated by hate/bias,” said D.C. police spokesperson Alaina Gertz in response to a question by the Blade about the police report. “Should further interviews with the complainant reveal information that suggests that this should be a hate crime, the report can be amended with the new information,” Gertz said.

“Anyone who has knowledge of this incident should take no action but call police at 202-727-9099 or text your tip to the Department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411,” Gertz said in an email message. “The Metropolitan Police Department currently offers a reward of up to $10,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for a violent crime committed in the District of Columbia,” she said.

Ford told the Blade she believes she made it clear to the police officers who spoke with her at the scene of the incident that the man who assaulted her called her anti-gay names, including “dyke bitch.” In a video of herself talking about the incident that she posted on Facebook Ford refers to the assault against her as a “gay-bashing.”

The police report says officers arrived on the scene while Ford was being treated by paramedics with the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.

“Victim 1 stated that she was talking to a friend of hers at the location when another person who frequents the location interjected himself and began to curse at Victim 1,” the police reports states. “The verbal altercation escalated, and Victim 1 stated Suspect 1 began to assault her with a bar stool,” the police report continues. “Other patrons at the bar broke up the altercation and Suspect 1 fled,” according to the report.

It adds, “Witness 1 corroborated Victim 1’s story and stated that Suspect 1 frequents the area but doesn’t know his name, only his nickname.”

Ford told the Blade the incident began while she and three or four Player’s Lounge customers were engaged in a conversation about local community issues, including the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said that, among other things, she expressed her strongly held opinion that the violence interruption program was not working and was a “joke.”

It was around that time, she said, that the man who assaulted her approached the group and interjected himself into the conversation and indicated that he was interested in possibly becoming one of the violence interrupter program volunteers or participants. Ford said the man, who appeared to be over six feet tall, began referring to women as “bitches” and hurled other curse words.

“So, we’re all going like, what?” Ford said of her and the others’ reaction to the man’s comments. At that point, most of those she was speaking with left the restaurant because it was close to its 11 p.m. closing time.

“And I’m like, who are you talking to?” Ford said she recalls asking the man. According to Ford, he responded by repeatedly reciting the words “dyke bitch” in a hostile way.

“At that point I immediately knew he was talking to me because I’m the only openly lesbian person in that space that frequents there regularly and who was in that room,” Ford told the Blade.

She said she questioned the man’s motives, including whether he could become a violence interrupter, and the two began to argue back and forth until, according to Ford, he walked up to her and stood almost shoulder to shoulder next to her.

“He continues to call me all kinds of homophobic slurs,” Ford said. “He calls me all kinds of bitches and continues to encourage the bar staff to get me to shut up before he shoots me and whatever else he will do to bring my death,” Ford said.

“Before I know it, he has picked up this barstool and hit me in the head,” said Ford. “He takes a second barstool and proceeds to hit me again,” she said, adding that he hit her a third time in the head with one of the barstools, each time with the metal legs of the stool.

Ford said she has learned that the man who assaulted her has told people she spit on him, which he considered to be an assault by her against him. Ford called that allegation a lie, saying she absolutely did not spit on the man.

When the Blade contacted Player’s Lounge for comment, a man who answered the phone arranged for Teresa “Auntie” Smith, one of the longtime employees who was present at the time of the incident, to speak with the Blade. Smith said while she was getting ready to close the restaurant she saw and heard what sounded like a heated argument between Ford and the man known as Black, but she said she was busy doing something in another part of the room and did not see the assault take place.

But she said both Ford and Black, whom she has known for a long time from their role as regular customers, were each saying “very mean things” that she had not heard either of them say before. Among other things, she said she heard Ford say to Black that he engaged in “oral sex with other men.”

When asked about Smith’s claim that she raised the issue of oral sex with Black, Ford said, “Yes, after he called me a dyke bitch I most certainly did.” Ford added, “It sounds like she’s saying that I deserved to be hit with a barstool. Nothing a woman says to a man that is yelling and encroaching on her personal space justifies hitting her in the head three times with a weapon,” Ford said.

“We at Players had a very sad incident on Wednesday night,” the restaurant said in an Aug. 5 post on its Facebook page about the assault case. “We are mostly family here and we look out for each other. We are so sorry for what happened and hope she will be ok,” the message says. “We are still trying to sort out the details of what happened, but we know that no one here would support gay bashing or any type of violence.”

Phil Pannell, a longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights and Ward 8 community activist, said he has organized LGBTQ community events at Player’s Lounge, saying it has the reputation of being an LGBTQ-friendly establishment for many years. He told the Blade that he was surprised upon learning of the assault against Ford because he was unaware of that type of incident ever having occurred at Player’s Lounge.

Ford, among other things, serves as executive director of the Future Foundation, a Ward 8-based community organization that provides services to local teenagers and their families. The organization’s website says one of its programs, called LGBTQ+ You, has provided a “safe space” drop-in facility for LGBTQ youth living in the city’s east of the Anacostia River neighborhoods.

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